Guests: Tom Breuer, Joseph Amann, Dana Milbank
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Mug shot, we have mug shot. Comedian Rush Limbaugh arrested on charges of prescription drug fraud. One-half his brain, as he likes to say, tied behind his back, symbolically at least, both his hands cuffed behind his back.
The gas crisis. Too bad hybrid engines can‘t run on the hot air produced by our politicians. Senate Republicans propose a $100 tax rebate per driver. Speaker Hastert pumps hydrogen-fueled vehicles. Unfortunately, the speaker is then caught on film getting out of the hydrogen-fueled vehicle and getting back into his gas-guzzling SUV.
No song, no dance, no seltzer down your pants, says big league baseball, if and when Barry Bonds passes Babe Ruth on the home-run list. Maybe they could just toss him a souvenir commemorative bat. What happens to the number-one prospect in the game after he hits an ump with a bat?
Shock jock indeed. Listeners tuning in expecting NPR or Christian radio, they‘re looking for Jesus Christ, and instead they get, Jesus Christ!
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD STERN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Honey, I heard you like to get spanked. Is that true?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: How Howard Stern showed up on religious radio.
And dead man getting smeared. Bill-O hits a new high in low. To O‘Reilly, this man is a villain, unprofessional, incompetent. Turns out he‘s also dead. Bill O‘Reilly beats up a dead guy.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR,” FOX NEWS)
BILL O‘REILLY, HOST: Because we‘re looking out for you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
What a Rush. His attorney says he and his client are pleased that this validates their claim that Rush Limbaugh never doctor-shopped. But if there is a compromise between the commentator and prosecutors in Florida, it is one that includes a virtual sword of Damocles hanging over Limbaugh‘s head for the next 18 months.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, there‘s a plea deal, there‘s a rehab program, and there will be one charge of doctor-shopping that will remain pending against Limbaugh until about November 1 of 2007. And whatever else happens or does not, there will ever forever be Rush Limbaugh, the mug shot. Rush behind bars.
After three years of jousting with prosecutors in the Palm Beach area over accusations of doctor-shopping and pill-popping, of getting new prescriptions for painkillers like oxycontin from physician after physician, of possessing literally thousands of pills, and using his own household staff to collect them in some cases, Limbaugh turned himself in at about 4:00 p.m. Eastern time today.
The process, the mug shot, the bail of $3,000 over in about an hour, with the formal filing of the negotiated resolution to come sometime during the day Monday. Limbaugh entered a not-guilty plea to the remaining charge of fraud to conceal information to obtain prescriptions. It will remain open for 18 months. If he continues with the rehab program for drug users and avoids any other legal problems, that charge will be dropped. He‘s also agreed to pay $30,000 to help—to the state to help defray the costs of its investigation.
While we try to sort out here if this gets filed, in the terminology of this program, in the COUNTDOWN Apology Hall of Fame, the Mug Shot Hall of Fame, Oddball, or Worst Person in the World, let‘s stick to the facts with our correspondent Mark Potter, in Washington at the moment, and having covered this thing firsthand for nearly three now—years now from Florida.
Mark, thanks for joining us.
MARK POTTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Keith.
This is the culmination of a nearly three-year investigation and court battle, court after court after court, over those allegations that Limbaugh shopped for prescriptions illegally, obtaining overlapping prescriptions from numerous doctors.
And really, this is the best possible deal he could have gotten, aside from the charges actually being dropped and the investigation rolled up, before we got to this point.
Under the settlement, as you said, a single fraud charge has been laid out by the prosecutors, it has been filed, the doctor-shopping charge, but it will be dropped in 18 months if just he meets a few conditions. He has to continue his drug treatment, he has to stay clean, as he—his lawyer says that he has done ever since he went into treatment, and he has to pay that $30,000 fee that you were talking about.
Probably the worst part of this is what you were also talking about, he had to go to the jail to be photographed and booked. But that was done very quietly today and very quickly. He has to be monitored for 18 months. But if he does all that properly, this will all be dismissed, and be behind him, at least from a legal standpoint, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Mark, is there anything in this that establishes the facts here, number of pills, number of doctors, or will the truth, or the guilt, or the innocence all remain hazy here?
POTTER: Yes, I think it‘s going to be the latter, hazy. There‘s not much here. This simply says that a single charge has been filed. He has to do these things, and out with it 18 months later. There‘s really not much here. And after all the court battle and after all the investigation, it‘s come to this.
And for those who were looking for much more, this is a disappointment. For those who support them, this is quite a relief. There‘s not much here except that photograph.
OLBERMANN: But that remaining open count, does it indeed, the analogy I used there earlier, the sword of Damocles, does that work here? I mean, why is it there, so they can drop it on him on a moment‘s notice if he violates the terms of the rehab or gets into some other kind of trouble?
POTTER: Absolutely. That‘s exactly it. I spoke to a spokesman for the state attorney‘s office today, and he said that if Rush does not complete the treatment, or, you know, if he errs off the path that he‘s supposed to be on, they can then file the charges and go forward with this.
So this is hanging over his head. In order to have the charges dismissed, his record absolutely clean, and he has to follow the rules. And so it is hanging over him. Your analogy is correct.
OLBERMANN: And you mentioned it earlier, this was a drive-through event this afternoon. Was it a surprise in totality? Did anyone know this was going to be in court on this afternoon, or was it the proverbial take-out-the-bad-news-on-a-Friday kind of saga?
POTTER: Well, exactly that, on a late Friday afternoon, at that. We knew that it would probably come to this.
There had—you know, this was tried once before earlier in the process, and it fell apart. It was a much tougher deal to Limbaugh at that time than this one, by the way. This is a softer deal than one—than the one first offered by the original prosecutor, who, by the way, has gone away to become a judge. A new team is here. They had to deal with evidence that‘s old now. You know, this thing went on for a couple of years in court, and the investigators couldn‘t even look at the case.
So you know what happens to evidence as time passes. Perhaps this was the best that they thought that they could do as well.
But this is not a surprise that it happened, it‘s a surprise that it happened this afternoon, so late and so quickly and without anybody being known. Our affiliated station in West Palm learned about it because a viewer happened to be going through the Web site for the Palm Beach County Sheriff‘s Department and saw that and went, Holy cow, I need to call somebody. And that‘s how we found out about it.
I‘d like to claim that it happened another way, but that‘s how it started.
OLBERMANN: Publicity is a great thing, especially if you know when to have it and when to prevent it.
Correspondent Mark Potter, who‘s been covering what now looks like the end of the Rush Limbaugh pill-popping saga. Many thanks, Mark.
POTTER: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Scandal something of a cottage industry among Republicans these days, from a radio host who‘s made a living off taking phone calls, to a dirty tricks scheme to jam the phone lines of a Democratic get-out-the-vote campaign in New Hampshire on election day 2002, a big name in the Republican Party now having been tied to that scheme, corporate records obtained by NBC News showing there was a financial connection between Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican party, and the company that arranged the phone-jamming operation in New Hampshire, Mr. Barbour, one of the original big-money investors in that Virginia firm, GOP Marketplace.
The records do not show that he played any role in the phone-jamming operation itself, but his ties to the firm are causing critics to wonder if other Republican leaders might be involved. Republican John Sununu defeated Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen in that 2002 election for Senate in what was supposed to be a close race.
For more on the phone-jamming revelations and the rest of the day‘s jamming scandal news in Washington, let‘s call in our correspondent David Shuster.
Thanks for joining us, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I‘m missing something here on this New Hampshire jamming story. Corporate records do not specifically show a role for Mr. Barbour in the jamming operation, just in that—in the company. The Republican National Committee says the people who did this were rogue operatives. So why did the Republican National Committee pay millions in legal expenses for one of those rogue operatives, this man James Tobin?
SHUSTER: Well, the Republican National Committee has had excuses all over the map. The latest explanation is that they wanted to honor a previous commitment to James Tobin.
But the key to all of this might be the 25 phone calls that Mr. Tobin made to the White House Office of Political Affairs on that election day and right afterwards. Ken Mehlman, who‘s now the chairman of the Republican Party, he was in charge of that White House policy shop at the time. He‘s not been able to explain half the phone calls. Nobody else at the White House has been able to explain the phone calls. Mr. Tobin might be able to explain the phone calls, but he‘s not saying anything, perhaps because he doesn‘t want to anger the people at the Republican Party who are paying $2.5 million worth of his legal fees.
OLBERMANN: I suddenly feel, in looking at this story, like I‘m at the International House of Pancakes as a 10-year-old, and I‘ve got one of those placemats that have all the little numbers that you connect, literally 30 or 40 dots that you are connecting here, and finally they make somebody‘s face. Is it possible they‘re going to make Jack Abramoff‘s face out of all of this? There‘s some connection between the American (INAUDIBLE), American tribes that he represented to this case?
SHUSTER: Well, and that what makes this so curious. There were Indian tribes, two Indian tribes that cut a couple of checks to the state Republican Party, New Hampshire‘s Republican Party, that was equal to the cost of the phone-jamming operation.
And what‘s so intriguing about all of this is that New Hampshire does not have any Indian gambling. There are no interests whatsoever for the Indian casinos in New Hampshire. The only thing that might have caught their interest was the fact that a number of top Republicans here in Washington knew that New Hampshire was going to have a close election, and those Republicans who knew that included Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, and presumably all the other money operatives who were trying to figure out how to possibly influence that election.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s check in on some of the other scandals here, CIA leaks, are we getting some better idea when there‘s going to be a decision on the possible indictment or clearing of Karl Rove?
SHUSTER: Well, Karl Rove‘s legal team says that they were told by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that it would take at least 10 days for the grand jury and for Fitzgerald to make a decision. The bad news in all this for Karl Rove is that it means that after three and a half hours of testimony, where he‘s answering a wide variety of questions on Wednesday, his fifth grand jury appearance, the prosecutors were not willing to clear Karl Rove, nor were they willing to give any sort of signal that Rove‘s answers satisfied the grand jury.
So at the very least, we have to say that the purgatory in Plamegate for Karl Rove continues.
OLBERMANN: All right, so we‘ve had phones and leaks, and finally, to that standard of politics, sex, that there is something in the Duke Cunningham corruption case, the defense contractors allegedly bribed the former congressman and other lawmakers with toll-free prostitutes. And even a rumor that there are photographs of this. What do we know of it?
SHUSTER: Well, we know that part of the allegations here involve that the defense contractors were setting up these sort of interesting poker parties, unlike the kind of poker parties I‘ve been to, but in any case, poker parties at the Watergate, where the prostitutes would come in, and I presume that they wouldn‘t be playing cards.
And so the allegation is that, and the suggestion has been, that there are pictures of these poker parties, and who was sitting where, and what they were doing, and who might have left the room for a little while. And those are the photographs that a lot of people seem to be so intrigued about. Again, it‘s still a little ways away before they can convince the one defense contractor to cooperate with the government, the one defense contractor who has the black book and the memories of the prostitutes and where they went. He‘s not cooperating with the government, but there‘s every expectation in Washington that eventually he will, and that‘s when everything gets really interesting.
OLBERMANN: You said Watergate, didn‘t you?
SHUSTER: That‘s right, the poker parties were in the Watergate complex, in the hotel, in the Watergate.
OLBERMANN: Poker? I don‘t know even know her. MSNBC‘s David Shuster, great thanks.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Tony Snow are already having any regrets about accepting the job of White House press secretary. Buyer‘s remorse, no doubt, made that much worse by the Q&A session in the Rose Garden on Friday. The strange relationship between the White House and the fourth estate on full display, the president answering a question about staff turnover by turning over the subject to something else, and the reporter who asked the question, our own David Gregory, then calling him on it. Mr. Bush was not amused.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So there‘s a lot to do, David, and we‘ll be continue to be results oriented.
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I asked you about your internal changes, and what that says about what how you think things need to be changed. They‘ve been very public, your internal changes.
BUSH: Well, David, I, I, I, I‘m, I‘m a results-oriented person, and my job is to achieve things for the American people, positive results that make us more secure and more prosperous. And of course I will have people by my side that work toward that objective.
Thank you for your penetrating question.
GREGORY: Thank you.
Plus, I‘m not going to hire you, if that‘s what you were suggesting.
GREGORY: I was not suggesting that.
BUSH: I‘m sure. I would, except you can‘t pass the background check.
OK, an unnecessary cheap shot. I take it back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As opposed to all those necessary cheap shots.
Not taking it back but giving it back, a $100 tax rebate to gas buyers would be nice. Speaker of the House jumping out of his hybrid fuel vehicle, back into his SUV, probably isn‘t nice.
And controversy fuel, the man considered the best bet for future stardom in baseball—well, we already know he‘s a big leaguer when it comes to helicoptering a bat at an umpire. The latest on this.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: It‘s hard not to remember the “Hindenburg.” Certainly hydrogen fuel technology has improved in the seven decades since the massive Nazi airship went up in flames in New Jersey.
But for present-day speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, the alternative energy source has proven no less disastrous nor combustible, at least politically.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, hot air and high gas prices, politicians of all parties talking the talk on what to do about soaring prices at the pump, but by no means walking the walk, or walking at all. It seemed too good to be true when the Republican representative from Illinois drove off inside this snappy little GM hydrogen fuel cell van after a news conference at a Washington, D.C., gas station.
That‘s because it was too good to be true. Suspicious photographers followed the speaker, caught him in a bait-and-switch, Mr. Hastert seen here transferring himself into a gas-guzzling SUV. That would be the vehicle on the right, as opposed to he‘s in the center. It was prepositioned and waiting for him just a few blocks away. At least he was trying to appear enviro-friendly.
No such guise nor gall from Democrats on the Hill, Senator Barbara Boxer of California among those traveling directly to and from this Capitol Hill gas station in an SUV for a dueling news conference.
Here‘s the best part. Her office was only one block away from the gas station.
The president making an unscheduled stop at a gas station in Biloxi, Mississippi, on Thursday. They must have been giving something away free, like dishes. The motorcade indisputably necessary there, the president‘s plan for high gas prices, no tax on oil company windfall profits, because the industry should be trusted to reinvest its gains into finding and producing more energy. He also wants the authority, he says, to raise fuel economy standards. The power to do that currently belongs to Congress.
Well, what‘s one more power ceded by the legislative branch to the executive branch?
Time now to call in “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank, who has been following D.C.‘s addiction to gas-policy posturing all week long.
Dana, thanks for your time.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I‘d appreciate it if you could make this snappy, Keith. My Hummer‘s downstairs with the air conditioning on.
OLBERMANN: Is -- And the heat. Is the—is this the perfect D.C. hypocrisy story, if only because everybody here, Republicans, Democrats, presidents, would-be presidents, does not and should not escape unscathed?
MILBANK: Well, it‘s a fabulous cheap shot, which is why I particularly enjoy it, and in that in the speaker‘s case, of course he has to have not only a Suburban but an up-armored Suburban. So you can only imagine how many gallons of gas that thing‘s taking.
I just waited outside of the Senate chamber while the senators were voting yesterday and watched them hop into their SUVs one after the other, whether it was a Lexus or a Dodge Durango. I—there was one senator from Indiana, Richard Lugar, bless him, got into a Prius, but that was about it.
OLBERMANN: How do they do this when they know they‘re such fair game and such easy game under these circumstances?
MILBANK: Well, people generally aren‘t all that alarmed about hypocrisy up here, and nobody pays much attention to it. So, look, we‘re having a debate about high gas prices, and there‘s not much Congress can do about it to lower the gas prices. They can raise taxes on oil companies, they can have some sort of a rebate here or there, but they can‘t lower the prices. All they can do is point fingers and blame at each other, which, of course, opens them up to those sorts of wise guys who will go outside and take pictures of them in whatever vehicle they get into.
OLBERMANN: Yes, they may (INAUDIBLE) no longer notice it, but the rest of us sure do. You mentioned this rebate, this $100 tax rebate from this, from the Republicans in the Senate to offset the gas prices. Is there a chance that something like that can happen?
MILBANK: Well, it‘s actually interesting, because you can get the $100 rebate, but only if they agree to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which sounds to me like it‘s some sort of a legal bribe.
Very unlikely that‘ll happen. The Democrats will block it. Very unlikely one of these windfall profits on the oil companies will happen, because the Republicans will block that.
But the point is that Congress this week and next week is going to do what it does best, and that is just talk a great deal.
OLBERMANN: I thought you were going to say, take a break and go on vacation.
The second question, though, related to that rebate. I don‘t own a car. Would I qualify for the rebate anyway?
MILBANK: Keith, we‘re going to get you special taxi fare. Rahm Emanuel in charge of the House Republicans‘ reelection campaign was asked what he drives today, and he pulled out his Metro cards from D.C. and his Chicago Transit cards.
OLBERMANN: That‘s good for him.
The—one thing contained in this that was fascinating, the president saying that he wants the power in his hands to raise fuel economy standards for cars. Is that the key part of that sentence, raising of standards, or is the key part of it that he wants to take authority to change the standards away from Congress?
MILBANK: Presidential authority. Certainly, if we can do warrantless wiretapping, then what‘s wrong with giving the president some corporate average fuel economy? Next week, the Senate‘s going to take up whether to assign the president the line-item veto again. So there‘s been a one-way shift of power headed down Pennsylvania Avenue, so any excuse will do at this point.
OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank, national political reporter of “The Washington Post,” as always, sir, great thanks for your time.
MILBANK: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Oh, well, if gas prices get really high, at least you can always ride a trusty old bike to -- How about a skateboard? Skateboard (INAUDIBLE)?
Just when you think he can‘t possibly get any worse, the Big Giant Head proves you and me wrong. The latest smear campaign is against a dead man.
OLBERMANN: It is, perhaps, man‘s fate to forever kill his own kind in conflict. One can still hanker, though, for a time when fear of something larger could stop that, such as the event of April 28, 585 B.C. In the middle of the war between the city-states of Lydia and Media, the sun went into eclipse, and the warriors fled in panic, calling off the conflict, ending the first-known government war against Media.
On that note, let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Bijnor (ph), India, with a very special low-key edition of Oddball. Meet Nayim Ahmad (ph), the village best young craftsman, master of the art in the bottle genre. Here we see Nayim building a small bed in the bottle. Either that, or he‘s poking at a bug. Takes a very steady hand and tremendous amounts of patience, so you can imagine that Nayim is wound a little tight.
Every now and then, Nayim screws up, and—well, you don‘t want to see that. You wouldn‘t like Nayim when he‘s angry.
More low-key activity. Here‘s a man riding a bicycle across Beachy Head (ph) in England. There‘s a cliff up ahead. There‘s a cliff up ahead. There‘s a...
Don‘t worry, folks, he‘s a trained professional base jumper. Had a parachute tied to his back and a camera on his head. Roger Holmes has done this all over the world and safely floated to the bottom of the 500-foot gorge. Sadly, the bike didn‘t survive, and we don‘t have any tape of all the times he didn‘t mean to do this.
Speaking of proverbially on the edge of a cliff, it‘s Barry Bonds. Baseball tries to figure out if and how to commemorate it when he passes Babe Ruth‘s historic but not record total of 714 career home runs.
And what to do about this? Take my bat, please. Please.
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Teresa L. Kaiser, arrested in Portland on suspicions of DUI and reckless driving after a crash. Sad to say, an all-too-common event, but noteworthy if you are, as Ms. Kaiser was, the executive director of the Oregon State Liquor Control Commission.
Number two, Nick Giannakouras, owner of West Side Moroni‘s Restaurant in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. His place has lost his license to serve alcohol now after he was found guilty of throwing a patron out of the bar because she would not buy a drink, because she was the designated driver.
Number one, Richard and Stephanie North of Cincinnati, arrested for swiping a big-screen TV but trying to carry it off in a small-screen car. Police nailed them when they saw a Mercury Sable going down the street with one of its doors opened, and most of a 55-inch flat screen hanging out. Your mug shots will look great on that, kids.
OLBERMANN: How to behave on a baseball field has been a conundrum since the first organized ball club, the Knickerbockers of New York established a rule in 1846 that any player caught swearing was subject to an immediate fine of six cents.
Regrettably the Knickerbockers did not give any guidance about what to do about a player who throws a bat at an umpire or another who has allegedly been cheating for eight years and is about to pass a career milestone established by the most famous athlete in the history of sports.
Our third story, the young and the restless in baseball. Young. Bat-thrower Delmon Young, in a moment. First, the restless.
Barry Bonds, who through play Thursday had hit three home runs in a span of 10 at bats to creep within three of Babe Ruth‘s legendary total, 714.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bonds goes the other way, hits it hard, hits it deep, out of here! He‘s on the board.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s deep left field. Floyd (ph) going back, and that ball is gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two-one from Wagner. Left it in the air. Deep left center field. It‘s out of here! Barry Bonds ties the game!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So Bonds had 711 and Ruth 714. But Ruth‘s 714 stopped being the record 32 seasons ago, when Hank Aaron hit his 715th. And Bond isn‘t just under a cloud of suspicion over steroid choice. He‘s virtually encased in concrete by now. Plus, how does baseball commemorate if and when Bonds hits number 715?
The answer has now come from baseball commissioner, Bud Selig. It won‘t.
“Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth‘s record,” Selig says. “We don‘t celebrate anybody the second or third time in.”
Selig has a very good point. Then commissioner Bowie Kuhn wasn‘t even there when Hank Aaron broke Ruth‘s record. And it‘s not like baseball stopped the game and started playing kazoos when Nolan Ryan moved into second place in the all-time list of strikeouts by a pitcher.
Speaking of strike-outs, baseball hitters have never taken kindly to them, especially when the umpire has called them out on a third strike in which they did not swing.
But short is the list of players who have ever responded by attacking the ump with a bat. Delmon Young, ranked the No. 1 probable superstar in all of minor league baseball, has already added his name to that dubious scroll.
The 20-year-old outfielder of the Durham Bulls International League rung up by an anonymous fill-in umpire in a game in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. There was an argument, he then walked away. And as soon as he got out of frame, he was thrown out of the game. And then there was some sort of baton twirling display.
The minor league has suspended Young indefinitely. It‘s believe he‘ll be out for 20 to 30 games, also that the big-league club which owns his contract, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, will add to that punishment in some way, especially since just a week ago he also had thrown a bat in anger in the direction of opposing pitcher.
Whether the immensely talented Young begins to act the right way will await the test of time, but he has talked the right way. Quote, “I owe an apology to my team, the fans and most importantly to the umpire for the incident. I am sorry.”
But one thing more about the incident, not about Delmon Young, not about that anonymous umpire, and they really are keeping the names of the fill-ins secret, while the regular minor league umpires are on strike.
It‘s not even about the skill required to make a bat do that. It‘s about the catcher, Corky Miller of the Pawtucket Red Sox. The bat has gone past him flying almost like a flying star propelled by a ninja death master, and he nonchalantly just puts his mask back on, like this happens every day.
Corky is a 30-year-old journeyman, a veteran of just 88 games, stretched out over five big league seasons, but he is a pro. Remember that name. That amount of sang froid, he‘s going to be a big-league coach or even a manager some day.
Speaking of being in charge of something, if you‘re the judge ruling on the “The Da Vinci Code” case, why not sprinkle your decision with a secret coded message of your own?
Speaking of surprises, listeners to religious radio expecting to hear about the Holy Spirit instead got a lot of—holy bleep—Howard Stern appearing where Billy Hargis ought to be. Details when COUNTDOWN continues.
OLBERMANN: Cracking a code. A judge takes a liberty with the law to play a little game with “Da Vinci Code” fanatics.
And just cracked. Bill O‘Reilly encourages his rabble to call up and harass a dead man. Ahead as COUNTDOWN continues.
OLBERMANN: In the throes of the awful baseball players strike of 1981, the owners and the players wound up in a courtroom. To their horror and the horror of their attorneys and the horror of the legal pros who were present, the judge had festooned his bench with pennants depicting logos of various ball clubs.
On the walls behind him were posters of some of the star players of the day. He eventually asked all the player witnesses for their autographs.
Our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN, we don‘t know what causes members of the judiciary to just break like that. Perhaps it‘s having to wear those awful robes, or the result of the constraints of writing those invariably boring opinions.
Any way, it‘s happened again. Not players and autographs but the judge‘s opinion in the suit about the book “The Da Vinci Code.” It contains a secret message.
COUNTDOWN‘s senior cryptanalysis correspondent, Monica Novotny, joins us. Cryptanalysis. Secret codes in writing, the study thereof. Hi.
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi.
OLBERMANN: Your turn.
NOVOTNY: Got it. Good evening, sir.
It took more than two weeks for someone to notice. The judge‘s written ruling in the “The Da Vinci Code” copyright case includes his own secret code. That news finally bringing London‘s legal community to a halt this week, setting off a frenzied 48-hour intellectual treasure hunt, where the only reward was satisfaction.
ELONKA DUNIN, CODE BREAKER: The news just kind of spread like wildfire. The race was on to see who could crack it first.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Cracking the code, a cryptic puzzle inspired by the controversial best-seller, “The Da Vinci Code”. The film won‘t be released until May 19, but it‘s real-life offshoot played out this week, thanks to one attentive lawyer.
DAN TENCH, LAWYER: And when I first saw it, I thought it just must be a mistake.
NOVOTNY: But it wasn‘t. Judge Peter Smith‘s April 7, 71-page judgment cleared Dan Brown, author of “The Da Vinci Code” in his copyright infringement case and contains the judge‘s own secret code, inspired by those he‘d seen in this courtroom.
JUSTICE PETER SMITH, “DA VINCI CODE” JUDGE: A lot of people there were addressing codes, so I thought, at the end, after the case, I‘d give them something to think about.
NOVOTNY: But no one noticed, until weeks later, when attorney Dan Tench took another look.
TENCH: I thought in the context it was rather funny, because the idea of some sort of a code in a judgment of this was in itself quite a humorous idea.
NOVOTNY: Throughout the document Smith sprinkled random letters in bold-faced italics, the first 10 spelling out his code‘s name, Smithy Code. From there, a jumble of letters leaving readers stumped.
DUNIN: Well, the first two words, “Smithy Code” were very easy. And then after that, it got very difficult.
NOVOTNY: Then a clue in paragraph 52. “The key to solving the conundrum posed by this judgment is in reading HBHG and DVC,” referring to the titles of the two books involved in the copyright case.
The media broke the story two days ago, and the race was on among code breakers around the world. The judge reportedly offering clues by e-mail, referring to his bio, indicating a love of naval history. Even suggesting where to find the method to decipher his cipher.
DUNIN: And in “The Da Vinci Code”, several different code systems are described, but one of them is something called Fibonacci, which is a number system. Fibonacci is a numeric sequence where you set up a series of numbers, and each number is the sum of the preceding two numbers.
NOVOTNY: Within 48 hours, the lawyer who first found it cracked it.
The answer, “Jackie Fisher, who are you? Dreadnought.”
Still puzzled? Smith‘s tribute to Admiral John “Jackie” Fisher, who in the early 20th Century developed a battleship called the HMS Dreadnought. Thus, the Smithy Code, not as sexy as the Da Vinci, but solved.
NOVOTNY: Now code breakers around the world can return to the code they‘ve been trying to crack for nearly 16 years, Kryptos. That is the 865-charcter coded message on the sculpture at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
OLBERMANN: Three things. Kryptos, cryptanalysis. See, that‘s how—the way it works.
Jackie Fisher was the—was the head admiral when Winston Churchill was the lord of the admiralty, if I remember, the First World War. But the third thing here, what does Kryptos have to do with “The Da Vinci Code”?
NOVOTNY: Well, “The Da Vinci Code”, in the artwork on the original hard cover version of the book, apparently, Dan Brown hid five different messages, five different puzzles. Two of them refer back to Kryptos.
OLBERMANN: Anything that would explain Bill O‘Reilly?
NOVOTNY: I don‘t think anything can explain that man.
OLBERMANN: Thank you for joining on that. COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, whose name includes the secret message, “tiny moon.” Thanks.
OLBERMANN: Easy segue to our roundup of entertainment stories, “Keeping Tabs.” No decoding necessary.
For the listeners of some Christian and public radio stations on the East Coast, they could hear this loud and clear, Howard Stern‘s R-rated satellite show bleeding into their car radios, and it‘s a hard “R” rating.
This was not the voice of God talking to you. Station officials blaming poorly installed, poorly built Sirius Satellite radio units which transmit a low power FM signal so that users can listen in on their car radios.
Apparently the devices transmit to the same spots in the dial as some of those radio stations. Those listeners of the Christian radio stations and NPR and others instead got the cavalcade of stripper stunts and rough language that is the Howard Stern radio show.
Bababoey, Lord. Bababoey.
Somebody else who won‘t be mistaken for a religious figure, Britney Spears. In case you missed the rumor the other night, here it is again. She‘s pregnant again. So reports “Access Hollywood”, and they at least have a date working here. Five months in, they say.
A source close to the family identified as the confirmation. Just last year Ms. Spears and husband Kevin Federline welcomed a bouncing baby boy. And when he literally bounced around, first on Ms. Spears‘ lap while she was driving, and then out of a high chair at home, even California child welfare authorities sat up and took notice.
And what a two-fer in this news hour. Rush Limbaugh arrested and Bill O‘Reilly urges his listeners to telephone a dead guy.
But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for worst person in the world, those two bottomless cups of coffee of worseness notwithstanding. You‘ll recognize the theme quickly.
The bronze goes to the fire department of Lamont, Illinois. High school student Rebecca George volunteered for one of the department‘s safety demonstrations. She played injured student No. 1. She sued because she says while she was lying there pretending to be injured, firefighters tried to really injure her by kicking her and stepping on her.
The bronze goes to the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida. They, too, were staging a drill, a training exercise in which an officer pretending to a golf club wielding passerby was to be arrested.
The two officers who did not know it was a drill, reportedly happened on the scene and promptly tasered the officer who was pretending to be the wielder.
But the winner, counter terror officials at the airport in Belgrade in Serbia-Montenegro. They put actual bombs in about five pieces of luggage being passed through the airport screening system there, and their crack bomb sniffing dogs found four of them. Four out of five.
The other bomb, fortunately without any kind of detonation device, was apparently shipped in the cargo hold of a plane bound for London. Thanks.
Counter terror officials at the Belgrade airport, today‘s worst persons in the world.
OLBERMANN: Fair and balanced and dead. Our No. 1 story in THE COUNTDOWN, Bill O‘Reilly has topped or maybe more appropriately, has bottomed even himself. He‘s attacked a dead guy and encouraged his viewers to call the dead guy. That story ahead with the authors of the book and web masters of the site, Sweet Jesus I Hate Bill O‘Reilly.
First a quote from Mr. Murrow. “He did not create the situation of fear. He merely exploited it, and rather successfully.”
After threatening to send FOX security and the local authorities to the home of a listener who called into his radio show and said the secret word, my last name, others at FOX News on TV and radio apparently quake in fear of retribution if they say the secret word.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BRIAN KILMEADE, CO-HOST, FOX‘S “BRIAN AND THE JUDGE”: We‘re back live in New York City. This is “Brian and the Judge” show, taking over for the great Tony Snow, who‘s moved on. According to reports—I‘m looking for a second source in this—he‘s working with the president. I didn‘t really see much about this.
JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, CO-HOST, FOX‘S “BRIAN AND THE JUDGE”: I
think it‘s a pretty sound assessment.
KILMEADE: I can‘t believe he chose to go on Brit Hume and talk about
he did one interview yesterday, as far as I know.
NAPOLITANO: Well, where do you think he‘s going to go? Keith Olbermann? I shouldn‘t have said that.
KILMEADE: No, you can say it, but I would say that he couldn‘t get further enough away from Keith Olbermann.
KILMEADE: He‘s a train wreck, but no one is watching so why give him publicity? Or listening.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Brian Kilmeade knows train wrecks. Don‘t worry, Brian. I won‘t tell anybody how you used to tell me you modeled your career on mine.
But seriously, an ex-sportscaster turned to national news commentator And—never mind.
Still, the transgression of the lesser lights at the place whose catch phrase should be “FOX, Not Facts” continued to pale in comparison to the continuing priceless work of Ted Baxter‘s evil twin.
Unhappy that the newspaper “The Syracuse Post-Standard” smeared him by merely referring to the 2004 Andrea Mackris sexual harassment lawsuit, which he had to settle for a reported $10 million, Mr. O‘Reilly declared that “the smear stops here” and then proceeded not just to smear that paper, but smear a dead guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O‘REILLY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL‘S “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”: The villains of that paper are publisher Stephen Rogers and editorial writer Mark Libbon. These men are not only unprofessional; they are incompetent.
Over the past few years, “The Post-Standard” circulation has declined nearly 30 percent. It is a disgraceful newspaper, nicknamed “Substandard” by some in upstate New York.
Now, we posted contact numbers for Rogers and Libbon on BillOReilly.com, should you want to speak with them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Hey, good luck with that. If Bill has actually found a working phone number for Stephen Rogers, then he‘s buried the lead. He‘s broken the biggest news story of the century. Because Mr. Rogers is dead.
The gentlemen on the left, as shown on O‘Reilly‘s program, passed away at the age of 90 in 2002. Stephen Rogers was the publisher of the Syracuse paper from 1955 through 1981. So if you want to try to call him, make sure you don‘t get stuck with some heavy duty roaming charges.
The men who spotted that egregious error, among numerous other O‘Reilly mishaps, are Joseph Amann and Tom Breuer, co-founders of the web site Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O‘Reilly dog com, and authors of a book by the same name.
Gentlemen, thanks for your time.
JOSEPH AMANN, C0-FOUNDER, SWEETJESUSIHATEBILLOREILLY.COM: Thanks.
TOM BREUER, CO-FOUNDER, SWEETJESUSIHATEBILLOREILLY.COM: Thanks for having us.
OLBERMANN: Tom, I‘ll start with you. Assuming here, you know, we‘ve all done stuff like this. We were once talking about Neal Boortz, and we showed a picture of Max Cleland. So the next night, we came on, apologized, and we made COUNTDOWN one of the worst persons in the world.
But I‘m gathering there‘s been no apology from Ted Baxter over this mistake?
BREUER: Not as far as we know. He could be, you know, doing that soon, but he‘s not really the apologizing kind. And we‘re figuring that there‘s a better chance that the dead guy is going to apologize to Bill than the other way around. So as far as we can tell, he‘s hiding under his desk. So...
OLBERMANN: Joseph, stuff like this, do you go searching for it? Do you do the fact checking that Bill obviously never does? Or are you guys like us? You just wait for this manna to fall from heaven, as it invariably does about 3.7 times a week?
AMANN: We have a pretty great group of readers on our web site and they‘ve send us a lot of tips and things. But you can really start to kind of feed through O‘Reilly‘s patterns as you watch his broadcast.
So I think that whenever he quotes a statistic or tries to interpret a charter or a graph, you can pretty much be assured that there‘s some flaw in his logic or reasoning. So that‘s usually where we start, is whenever he tries to use anything that he considers fact.
OLBERMANN: And the title, Joseph, of your book, it seems reasonably self explanatory. How did you and Tom find each other? What made you decide on exposing the big giant head?
AMANN: We have had an alternative newspaper in Wisconsin that we ran together, and O‘Reilly, you know, it‘s just one of those things you‘re flipping through channels and you come across him. And either you love him or want to you want to throw things at your television.
And after breaking, I think, three televisions, I decided that it would be more productive to actually launch some kind of web site and point out to the humorous aspects of his insanity. And obviously, then a book deal followed.
OLBERMANN: So something good came out of that. Tom, there‘s so much to choose among, Tom, but it‘s like—I don‘t know—which package do you open on Christmas morning first? But what do you think is Bill O‘Reilly‘s biggest mistake, biggest gaffe? What is the thing that you‘ve gotten the most—has resonated the most with your readers?
BREUER: Well, of pure visceral laughs, this one is pretty good. But I mean, he‘s done a lot of other things that are, you know, I think more, I guess, disingenuous and just sort of slimy.
You know, I think “Paris Business Review” is one of my favorites. Because he cited an economic journal to defend the success of his French boycott that didn‘t exist. And I don‘t think he‘s ever mentioned it since, but I‘m sure he‘s aware by now that it doesn‘t exist.
AMANN: And enough to fill a book. You fill a book with it. It‘s—and we could probably fill four or five books, to be honest.
OLBERMANN: I hope you do. But in the interim, the fact that this one notes that you guys, quote, “realized that upon publication of this book, they could well die at the hands of Bill O‘Reilly or one of his henchmen. They are at peace with this,” end quote.
I‘m sure when you wrote this, Joseph, that this sounded like some sort of far-fetched idea. But then we heard about FOX security and the local authorities. Have you had a visit from the O‘Reilly-nistas yet?
BREUER: Well, people have asked if they‘ve called yet, and I think that rather than a ring, we‘re going to hear a kind of a dull thud to the back of our heads one day.
Tom, I joked, is going to be coming home with some groceries and get clonked and, you know, Boca burgers and soy cheese will be flying everywhere, because he‘s a vegetarian.
And I‘ll be swimming somewhere off the coast of Martha‘s Vineyard when some speed boat will come along and dump chum all over me, and I will be, you know, wading in blood and fish guts as the sharks circle. And I‘ll know that O‘Reilly was to blame.
OLBERMANN: And the last thing they saw were loofahs.
The book, to say nothing of the web site, “Sweet Jesus, I hate Bill O‘Reilly”. The authors and webmasters are Tom Breuer and Joseph Amann. And boys, the falafels are on me, as we say around the building. Great thanks for joining us.
BREUER: Thanks for having us.
OLBERMANN: Keep up the good work.
AMANN: We will.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,093rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.
A reminder to join us again at midnight Eastern, 11 p.m. Central, 9 Pacific—you can do the rest of the counting yourself, if you‘d like to. That would be for the late edition of COUNTDOWN.
Until then, it‘s a special presentation of “LOCK UP: INSIDE NORTH CAROLINA WOMEN‘S PRISON”. Get out the popcorn.
Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees lose. Good night, and good luck.
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